The day my eyes opened

“I had been familiar with that street for years, and supposed it was dead level: But it was not, as the bicycle now informed me to my surprise. The bicycle, in the hands of a novice, is as alert and acute as a spirit-level in the detecting and vanishing shades of difference in these matters. It notices a rise where your untrained eye would not observe that one existed.”
Mark Twain, Taming the Bicycle

Yeah. That. The things you see, and learn, when you ride a bike:

The way the road rises and falls, and makes you work harder to keep going…it’s the kind of thing you can’t appreciate, or even notice, when driving a car. The slight turn to the left that keeps you from seeing the next intersection…and when you were in your car, you thought it was a perfectly straight road. Those seemingly tiny imperfections in the road surface when you’re in a car, that loom large against the narrow tires of a road bike.

Your perception changes. The way you see things becomes somehow a bit more…granular? Precise? Detailed?

Another, much more significant, change in perception for me occurred right after I took a basic course in bicycle riding. It was the League of American Bicyclists’ Traffic Skills 101. I took it along with a friend; both of us wanted to become instructors, and the TS101 course was a prerequisite. We both wondered on our drive to the course: We’ve been riding bikes for years. We’ve done short rides, long rides, rides for fun, rides for charity, week-long rides…you name it. What can we learn in this course?

We learned that our way of looking at riding changed. Yes, the course went through some basics (much of which we knew at least as well as the instructors), but then made us rethink our relationship with other drivers. We gained the confidence to DRIVE our bicycles. We learned that the more confidence we showed on the road, the more respect we got as road users! And we learned some skills that would serve us well in avoiding the mistakes of other drivers.

I find, too, that the way I drive a car has changed. The increased awareness of the road, of other road users, of the need to communicate and negotiate with other drivers (on 2, 3, 4 wheels or more) all play into an increased presence of mind when I’m driving.

Try it. I challenge you to get on a bike and drive it. See if it changes you, just a little bit…


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